The World Health Organization’s (WHO) sanitary inspection (SI) forms need an urgent upgrade to help improve the quality of small water supplies in some of the world’s most rural and vulnerable regions, according to a new study.

“Small drinking-water supplies face particular challenges in terms of their management being vulnerable to contamination but are often not monitored regularly,” said Katherine Pond, senior lecturer at the University of Surrey who led the study. “Sanitary inspection is an important risk assessment tool to identify hazards which may become a risk to health.”

According to the WHO, many small drinking supplies—such as groundwater found in farms or a well in rural communities—are not regularly monitored and inspected. Importantly, it is feared that such supplies do not provide safe or sufficient drinking water for the communities they serve—many of whom are vulnerable.

“Our research found that sanitary inspection forms were indeed vital and beneficial tools for those carrying out inspections in some of the most rural areas around the world,” said Rosalind Malcolm, professor of law at the University of Surrey and co-author of the study. “However, we recommend that strengthening the questions in the form and including technical guidance in the document will certainly provide the inspectors with the confidence needed to make the right decisions which could potentially save lives.”

In a paper published by the journal Resources, experts from the University of Surrey, examined the usability of Sis—a key tool used globally to identify risks in water supplies.

The research team gathered expert opinion about whether the forms are robust and consistent enough to give inspectors—many of whom do not have expert knowledge in water safety—the guidance to correctly identify risks.

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The study recommends that questions in the SI forms are revised to make sure that inspectors interpret them consistently—providing them with targeted technical guidance for each question. The team also recommend that the forms should provide inspectors with helpful actions to help them basic operation and maintenance.

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